Sunday, November 10, 2013

Modern Conveniences

Men who herd cattle live rough for long stretches of time. After months on the trail, cowboys will sometimes treat themselves to a fancy hotel room to wash the trail dust off as thoroughly as possible.

I once stayed at such a hotel in Big Piney, Wyoming. The owner decided to modernize and installed a piped, heated water system – the first in the region. Well, a cyclone came through. It destroyed the hotel and all the buildings around it. I survived by hiding in the root cellar. When I emerged, I heard a strange sound. I followed it to find a young man sitting in a bathtub amidst the remains of the hotel. There was wreckage all around him. He sat there wearing nothing but his birthday suit, oblivious to the devastation, talking to himself.

"Modern plumbing, modern plumbing!” he cried over and over.

 “Are you alright?” I inquired.

“Never again!” he exclaimed. “Never again! I heard about these new-fangled heated baths, so I thought I’d try one. Cost me fifty cents. Filled the tub from a spigot, nice as you please. Then when I figgered to leave, all I did was pull the plug."

"Well you seen what happened," he continued. "Doggone if the whole room didn't just drain away!”

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Cursed Cook

I was once asked to remove a curse from a frying pan. The pan belonged to a chuck wagon cook named “Salty.” "Salty" was renowned for his beans and bacon, and also his bad temper. Though Bleb and I were a little short on rations when we met "Salty" on the trail, he made no effort to share from his well-stocked supplies. Not long after we met he ran into a spate of bad luck.

“You remember that old Indian who was poking around the wagon the other night,” he said, “and how I swung my pan at him?"

"Yes," I said.

"Ever since, nothing cooks right in that pan. Food either burns or undercooks or tastes like something the steers left behind. I’d get me a new pan but I don’t get paid until the end of the drive. Know anything that will help?”

“It sounds like you angered a desert spirit,” I said. “The Indians expect hospitality and you broke their law, which still applies out here. Getting a new pan won’t help.”

“What should I do?” said "Salty."

“I’d offer a meal to the spirits through an animal representative,” I said.

“What kind of animal?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, “mules are known to descend from a desert breed, and are more kindly disposed to humans than coyotes. I’d start there.”

“I ain't gonna spoil my team,” he protested. “It might give them ideas. You reckon yours will do?”

“I don’t see why not,” I said. “I’ve seen Bleb deal with wild spirits before.”

The cook pulled out several Dutch ovens and set to work. Inside an hour he’d prepared a pot full of grits, a dozen biscuits with sorghum syrup, half a pail of beans and salt pork and six helpings of fried apple pie. Bleb ate it all.

“That ought to do it,” I said.  "Though you might want to test it on a human.”

“You!” he shouted at me. “Try these eggs and bacon and cornbread and fried potatoes!”

I obliged, and after a couple plates I pronounced them edible.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Yes, though I was pretty sure earlier,” I said. “My mule normally won’t touch grits. It binds him up.”

Bleb and I continued eastward while the cattle drive moved west. I heard later that the cook got a job with Delmonico’s in New York City, so I guess the curse was truly broken –  plus there was no more manure tea in his frying pan.

Copyright © 2013 Laurie J. Anderson. All rights reserved.